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The Pros & Cons of Going Solo

Delta Junction, Alaska

I enjoy solo wilderness travel. I also enjoy group wilderness travel. There are pros and cons to each, but certain trips are best done solo, while others are best done by two or more individuals.

In the case of this expedition, the reason I’m doing it solo basically comes down to the question: How many people do I know who are willing and able to do this trip? Willing: have the desire. Able: have the skill, time, resources, and flexibility with job, family, and other commitments. I know of a few people who might be willing and able, but I don’t know them well enough to risk the expedition on them. So I am doing it alone.

This has some significant pros…

First, I find that I’m much more engaged with my surroundings. There’s no opportunity to get distracted in conversation or to be sidetracked by group dynamics. This engagement with my surroundings helps keep me from becoming lonely–I’m so immersed out there that I don’t think about it.

Second, I’m more open to local interaction. When you’re traveling in a group, you’re in a bubble. Outsiders are more inclined to speak to someone who is on their own.

Third, I am completely responsible for my own success or failure. My fate is contingent on my commitment, health, and physical ability. I am not concerned about a team member getting homesick, being incompatible with other team members, or being physically unfit.

Forth, I have full-time executive authority. Compromising and delegating are good skills, but they are not always practical in the wilderness. When the stakes are really high, as they are during this trip, I prefer being able to decide where I’m going to camp, how hard I’m going to push, and what route I’m going to take.

And certainly some cons too…

First, I find that I become intellectually stagnant. There is much to be learned vicariously through relationships with other people, and I miss this component entirely during my long solo trips.

Second, I am limited in the technical difficulty of my expeditions because of safety considerations. For example, my trips do not include any technical rock climbing or glacier travel, and I try to stay out of avalanche terrain.

Third, a great group can achieve that “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts” effect. My potential as a solo traveler is limited to just me.

Posted in , on May 10, 2010
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8 Comments

  1. Dave on January 6, 2012 at 8:19 pm

    Hi Andrew – I used to hike a lot with my son, but since he started college I find I’m doing a lot of solo trips – nothing huge – overnight trips in the North East, including some winter hiking. I definitely enjoy being the only person to think about – if I’m feeling good and want to push hard I can – if I’m feeling tired or want to take a section slower, I don’t have to worry about what other people are thinking. I miss having company, but I completely understand what you said about feeling more in touch with your surroundings. I find hiking a great way to de-stress ad re-charge. I’ve started doing some day hikes with groups from the AMC, so I may end up doing longer hikes with groups again – we’ll see, but for now I’m enjoying going solo.
    Thanks for your posts – great to read and learn from your experiences.

    Cheers,

    Dave.

  2. Nancy on February 23, 2012 at 4:03 pm

    I always say if I had to wait for someone to go along with me, I’d never get to do anything. I know very few people who would even want to do what I do, and those who want to and have the skills can’t get away. I’ve learned to just go alone, and I like being in charge of the experience. Being able to go solo is very liberating in many areas of life.

  3. Bryan on April 10, 2012 at 1:28 am

    Going solo is sometimes a hollow experience, as there is no one to share your successes and failures with. But, I’ve had some of my most memorable moments when there is no one around, no one to whine to, no one to direct me. Nothing like a face to face meeting with a mountain lion in the dark to get your blood moving when you’re by yourself. Or a close call on a rock ledge above a chasm where no one will find you for a long time. You feel raw, like a true traveler that makes his own way.

    Ok…I’ll stop with the Ernest Hemingwayesque stuff…But seriously. Get out alone. It’ll rock your world.

  4. anti on May 14, 2012 at 1:20 am

    you are not alone when you are out in nature. your spirit guides and guardians are all around you and you can communicate with them. the mother is of course always there and quite nice when you respect her and embrace her. the animals will guide you as well when you open up to speak with them and respect them and their homes and lands. the most important thing is to remove ALL fear and flow with your path as EVERYTHING in nature can feel and smell your fear…

    • Wildernessman on September 8, 2013 at 10:31 am

      Thats pretty far out stuff. One with nature thing. Cool. I feel the same. You kind of become part of your invironment. Most people do not allow themselves to go there or feel that when out in the forest. Can be very peaceful.

  5. Chris on August 22, 2012 at 9:09 am

    Thanks for the post. Going out alone is something I have always wanted to do. The stress on my spouse keeps me from going alone. Fortunately I have a son in Boy Scouts and that gives me an outlet to go out and hike. The drawback is they are boys, and I just am not willing to push them as hard as I would push myself. I want them to enjoy the experience. So when 50 miles takes 6 days and we are hiking out at 9 am I just have to keep that in mind. I just hope my son is still excited about hiking when he is old enough to do section K of the PCT with me.

  6. robert on August 29, 2013 at 4:23 pm

    Hello Andrew: Thanks for your candid personal experience and experience on hiking. From your own experiences I want to know or if you can share your personal experiences with solo hiking situations like:

    1. When you sleep in the wild during the middle of the night, are you concern, or how do you prepare suddenly a bear, deer, or unknown person approaching you? or worst while you were sleeping and not aware the surrounding environment, how to you prepare for such situations?

    2. Do you ever step onto snakes? Most of the time they are pretty camouflage with the background environment and how your experience to deal with such situations?

    3. If you ever go approaching by bucks, wild big size animals hostile to you, what is your approach to deal with them, slowly avoid them from another path, or just wait some time before proceeding again?

    Enjoy your story and best regards!

    • Andrew Skurka on September 7, 2013 at 6:29 pm

      I think most of the concerns you have expressed are unfounded. I have spent thousands of days in the outdoors and have had very few scary animal encounters. Most backpackers have had the same experience.

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